Patricia Cumper Interview
Posted on 06 April 2006. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to playwright Patricia Cumper, who is the new artistic director of Talawa, Britain's leading black theatre company
Tell us something about your background.
I’ve been writing for the theatre in the Caribbean and in the UK for nearly thirty years, all told. I like to think of myself as a story teller and to reduce what good theatre is to its very basics: an interesting story, well told, in a believable world. Also, much as I admire clever theatre, I hold writers that are emotionally true and brave in even higher esteem. I have written a couple dozen plays, more than sixty episodes of Westway, the world service radio soap, single plays and serial dramas for Radio 4, a novel, short stories and a number of write- and-reads for Radio 4, among many other things. I am a story teller.
I have worked with Talawa on and off for six or seven years, not only as a commissioned writer, but as a script reader, member of the Channel 4 sponsored writers’ group, writing tutor for students from six year olds to those in their twenties, facilitator, assistant director and dramaturge. In that way, I got to know and appreciate the work the company was doing, and began to develop my own ideas about the direction Talawa should be taking.
I believe it is important for there to be a black theatre company of Talawa’s size for a number of reasons. I feel that when cultures meet, change happens. Over the last five hundred years, Black culture has had a huge impact on Western culture. Jazz, carnival, tap are just a few of the forms that have emerged from that mix. The Black British community consists is a hugely varied one with people from Caribbean, African as well as long established Black British communities in the mix. Talawa needs to be there to document and celebrate that synergy.
Talawa must also provide opportunities for Black theatre artists to create entertaining and original work that examines the issues that interest them and their community, and be the place where the full range of the Black experience is explored. We also need to make each production a training ground, a place where new talent can learn from the more experienced or where older heads looking to move in a different direction can hone their skills, so that they can gain the training and experience that allows them to move out to work in the mainstream theatre. It must also be that place where Black artists can lay down the burden of representation and simply be respected as artists.
How do you find writers?
Writers find us. They send their work in to us, they come to our productions, make contact in some way. And we keep an eye out for work that interests us and fits with our aims and objectives.
What excites you about a piece of writing-
Writing that has heart and energy, writing that shows that the writer has taken the time to understand not just the skin but the muscle and bones of the story he or she is telling, writing that tells me something I didn’t know, or prods me into looking at something I thought I knew in a different way; that is what excites me.
and what makes your heart sink?
Plays where the writers ego is stronger than the voice of the characters they create, plays that preach, plays that are dashed off.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
A difficult one. This changes all the time, but my all time list would have to be Waiting for Godot, Ti Jean and his Brothers (Derek Walcott), Death of a Salesman and Raisin in the Sun.
Godot because I think Beckett writes about those moments in our lives that most of us find beyond words.
Ti Jean because it is a wonderful allegory for the post colonial Caribbean.
Death of a Salesman because it celebrates the heroism of the ordinary.
Raisin because of the prescience of the political and social analysis it contains.
Tell us about Talawa's submissions policy
Talawa is a Black Theatre company with a commitment to new writing so if you have work that you think might be of interest, do send it along. It will be read by our Associate Director who could them pass it on to the Talawa script reading group. This group always provides feedback to the writer on any script they’ve read and will recommend which scripts they think should be considered for further development or full production by the company.
We also have both a young writers group and a group for established writers and these provide the members with workshops and advice from literary managers and agents. Short pieces developed during the existence of the group are showcased. Last year the showcase, Unzipped, was held at the Soho Theatre to sold out audiences and members of the group have been commissioned or are having worked developed.
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